Terps wrap up difficult early stretch with toughest test yet: No. 1 Florida

Young UM team dogged by fundamental flaws

December 10, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The unranked Maryland Terrapins have a chance to do something highly unusual and unexpected tonight: knock off a top-ranked basketball team on its own court.

But before the Terps get caught up in the anticipation of playing No. 1 Florida at the O'Connell Center in their first road test of the season, Maryland coach Gary Williams would rather they scrutinize fundamental parts of their own game.

Stop getting so antsy while you're working to create a decent shot against a zone defense. Make some open field-goal attempts. Sharpen things up at the free-throw line. And, please, guard the perimeter on defense.

Getting shut out in last weekend's BB&T Classic was quite an eye-opener for these young Terps, who are being carried by a second-year senior and sophomores and freshmen.

Maryland had not gone 0-2 in the tournament's nine-year history until 17th-ranked Gonzaga and West Virginia changed things. By losing to West Virginia in overtime Sunday, five nights after beating then-No. 15 Wisconsin in overtime at Comcast Center, the Terps blew an opportunity to break into the Top 25.

Now the Terps (4-2) are staring at their first three-game losing streak since February 2001, as they conclude a nine-day run against the last and biggest of three ranked opponents.

They have a chance to defeat a No. 1 team for the fifth time under Williams and the third consecutive year, with Duke having been the victim the past two seasons.

And the coach will be monitoring his team's temperature throughout the visit.

"That's part of playing this game down there. It's a test, playing the No. 1 team on their court. We'll find out more about our team, where we are," said Williams, who is one victory shy of No. 300 at Maryland. "You've got to guard the three-point line. You've got to make free throws. You've got to run good offense. You've got to do everything right.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy. This is our toughest stretch until we get into the conference. I think [the players] have responded well [to the West Virginia loss]. It's not a crisis."

It has been a learning experience for the Terps, who have earned Williams' admiration at times with their heart and hustle, but also tested his tolerance with their wandering attention span on defense and tendency to panic and force shots in the half-court offense.

This is a team that nearly stole the West Virginia game after falling 16 points behind seven minutes into the second half. This is also a team that fell behind the Mountaineers by 16 points in the first place, and allowed 26-for-49 shooting from three-point range in the BB&T. Maryland's past three opponents have shot a combined 50 percent from beyond the arc.

For the season, Maryland is ranked last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in three-point defense (41.5 percent shooting).

"It's not hard to tell we're getting beat on three-pointers," senior center Jamar Smith said. "We know we're not supposed to be down 16, especially against West Virginia. We know we're a lot better than that."

Given the nature of Florida - which ended Maryland's nation-best 87-game nonconference home winning streak a year ago in College Park - defense is where Maryland needs to buckle down first and foremost, particularly in transition, or else this could be a long night.

The Gators (5-0), who have beaten No. 9 Arizona and are coached by Billy Donovan, play an up-tempo game that is built around the three-point shot.

Sophomore guards Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson are averaging a combined 33.1 points a game, largely due to their 22-for-58 shooting from three-point range. Roberson, who was a key in last year's victory against the Terps, made 74 threes a year ago, the most of any returning player in the Southeastern Conference.

Florida, which has won 40 straight nonconference games at home and has four starters shooting better than 50 percent, has other outside threats among its big men, such as 6-foot-9 forward Christian Drejer (9.4 ppg) and reserve forward Mohamed Abukar (5.8 ppg).

The Gators go 10 players deep, they hit the boards and attack the basket. They are out-rebounding opponents by 12 a game and have made 70.7 percent of their foul shots.

Maryland has yet to shoot 50 percent in a game, ranks last in the ACC in field-goal percentage (.450) and free-throw percentage (.567) and next-to-last in three-point shooting percentage (.272).

Tonight would mark a fine time for the Terps to tighten up in their problem areas, a fine time for players like sophomore forwards Nik Caner-Medley and Travis Garrison and sophomore point guard John Gilchrist to show their resiliency.

Garrison is shooting just 41 percent and averaging only 7.8 points from his power forward spot. Caner-Medley is coming off a season-low six-point effort. Gilchrist had his first poor outing of the year against West Virginia by doubling his season total with eight turnovers, a performance that left him sobbing outside Maryland's locker room.

Caner-Medley said the problems can be rectified by taking a simple approach - play hard and don't let up for 40 minutes.

"It's still early, but we need to learn there are two halves in basketball," he said. "This team is not good enough to not play hard. We're not the type of team that can play OK against a good team."

UM wins vs. No. 1

The Maryland men's basketball program has defeated eight top-ranked teams. Only UCLA (10) and North Carolina (nine) have beaten No. 1 teams more often, and Duke is tied with the Terps at eight. The Terps' wins over No. 1 teams:

Date Result

1-18-03 No. 17 Maryland 87, No. 1 Duke 72

2-17-02 No. 3 Maryland 87, No. 1 Duke 73

1-14-98 Maryland 89, No. 1 N. Carolina 83*

2-7-95 No. 8 Maryland 86, No. 1 N. Carolina 73

2-20-86 Maryland 77, No. 1 N. Carolina 72*

2-27-82 Maryland 47, No. 1 Virginia 46*

1-27-79 Maryland 67, No. 1 Notre Dame 66

2-21-59 Maryland 69, No. 1 N. Carolina 51

*-Overtime Note: All wins at Maryland except 1986 in Chapel Hill, N.C.

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